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Queens Chronicle

Just say no to gerrymandering

Students’ political maps ‘untangle’ borough’s lines

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Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:14 pm, Thu Jan 26, 2012.

And the winner is ... districts that are not gerrymandered.

The 2012 New York Redistricting Project unveiled this week the winning Congressional and state Senate maps drawn by students who wanted to voice what they hope happens at the legislative level —specifically, that political lines will be untangled so incumbents will not be unfairly favored and groups with similar interests could stay together.

Students throughout the state submitted maps they created as part of the project’s initiative to get the public more involved, and aware, of the redistricting process — which happens once every 10 years and determines which neighborhoods will fall within which Assembly, Senate and Congressional districts. While Gov. Cuomo and some legislators say they support an independent redistricting commission, a team of politicians is once again creating the maps — which are expected to be unveiled in the upcoming weeks and will have to be approved by the Legislature and the governor.

When the maps are drawn solely by legislators with no input from the public, “you end up with these gerrymandered districts that thwart political competition,” said Costas Panagopoulos, director of the New York Redistricting Project and a Fordham University political science professor. “It’s important to remind people that even though this is a slightly complicated process, it’s not so impossible for ordinary people to think about.”

So, while there is no independent redistricting commission, Panagopoulos said he hopes legislators will heed input from the public, including the project’s winning maps.

A team of students from the University of Buffalo Law School created the winning Congressional map, and the project picked a British student’s state Senate map.

“When we looked at Queens, and all of New York City, we really had to untangle the spaghetti,” said Andrew Dean, a law student at the University of Buffalo.

Dean said he and his colleagues worked to ensure many Asian voters would not be split up in Queens, and they created the city’s second Hispanic-majority district in the Bronx.

“We really focused on keeping together communities of interest, compliance with the Voting Rights Act, maintaining political competitiveness, and contiguity,” Dean said. “We tried to draw communities where people had a geographical and cultural sense of identity.”

To create the maps, students used a computer program called District Builder, which was made by Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University, and Micah Altman, a professor at Harvard. The program allows students — and any member of the public — access data on demographics for free. To build a map, visit the project’s web site at redistrictny.org.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who has been a proponent of the project, said it shows that members of the general public can, contrary to what he said “defenders of the status quo” argue, submit “excellent proposals within a pretty short time frame.”

Gianaris has sponsored a bill, supported by a number of his Queens colleagues, that would permanently create an independent redistricting commission.

“I’d like to see fairness in this process,” Gianaris said. “We have a process that’s controlled by the majorities, and they want to damage the minorities.”

Welcome to the discussion.